While wrapping up my review of Ron Kline’s The Cybernetics Moment: Or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age, I fell down the rabbit-hole of his fascinating footnotes and somehow ended up landing on the January 1985 issue of the Whole Earth Review. As Fred Turner has described in From Counterculture to Cyberculture, the Whole Earth Review was designed to “do for computing what the original [Whole Earth Catalog] had done for the counterculture.” Kevin Kelly, one of the editors of Whole Earth Review, famously went on to become the founding editor of Wired Magazine.
I am not sure how representative it is of the whole, but this particular issue is astonishing. The title and theme is “Computers as Poison,” and the contributors include Langdon Winner, E.M. Forster, and R. Crumb! The Winner article is an early version of his now-classic essay “Mythinformation”. The E.M. Forster is his similarly classic 1909 short-story “The Machine Stops”. The R. Crumb cartoons illustrate a remarkably prescient article “Six Grave Doubts about Computers” by the advertising executive-turned-environmental activist Jerry Mander. Of direct relevance to my Dirty Bits project is his questioning of whether or not computers are “clean,” but his discussion of a host of concerns about computing, from its influence on occupational health and safety to its centralizing affects on economic and political power, are part of a larger conversation about the social implications of the computer revolution that has not yet been well-documented by historians of computing.